Living in the Netherlands has some advantages. For example, we get to celebrate Christmas twice. The reason for this is that Christmas in Holland is a bit like a bank holiday. People take the day off, but it does not carry the same import as it does in the US and England. You still see decorations and lights, but not to the same degree as in the US. The main event here is actually Sinterklaas, which takes place on December 5th. Sinterklaas (or “de Sint”) arrives by steamboat from Spain sometime during mid-November (a big event in itself), and he spends the next two weeks touring the country on his white horse (Amerigo) accompanied by scores of helpers who all go by the name of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).
It is believed that the US tradition of Santa Claus originated from Sinterklaas. There are similarities, but also some marked differences. And while Christmas may play second fiddle to Sinterklaas here in Holland (at least for the moment), there has definitely been an increase in the importance placed on Christmas in recent years, probably in part due to the influence of US cinema and television. Whatever the reason, we get to celebrate Christmas twice.
At is point I should mention that Alpha Redemption (plug, plug) is currently taking part in the “Christmas Book Signing Bash” at the Christian Review of Books site here, along with about 70 other authors. So if you’re looking for a present for that special someone and want to buy something other than socks or a tie, you could always head on over here and buy someone a nice book instead.
The reason I mention this (apart from the shameless plug for Alpha Redemption) is because the hosts of the event asked each author to answer a couple of questions about Christmas. I answered the question about which Christmas memory was my fondest. You can find my answer on my book’s page here, but I’ll repeat it for the sake of those of you who can’t or won’t be visiting to buy a copy of Alpha Redemption (hey, I think I’m finally getting the hang of this marketing lark).
The memory that sticks in my mind the most is not my fondest memory, but certainly the most interesting. It started with me being approached one morning by a colleague at the gym where I used to work when I was a teenager. She and her husband were taking their young daughter to the kindergarten to see Santa. Unfortunately, the guy who was hired to play Santa was sick and they needed someone to fill in. The dad couldn’t do it because he was organizing something else at the school. So they asked me and, without the wisdom of hindsight, I agreed.
We were already late by then, and so I had to don the suit en-route in the back of their minibus. I was handed a pile of red and white material and a brown bag that I assumed was Santa’s sack. I put on the coat but it was too small. The arms finished about halfway down my forearms and I could not close it at the front no matter how I tried. Luckily, I had a faded red training vest on at the time, so this covered most of the gap with something that was at least vaguely red. I shoved a towel under the vest to make a “belly” and managed to get the belt closed. Next came the trousers which, although they fit around my waist, were way too short. I pulled them down but I still had a three-inch gap between the hems and the tops of my white training socks. Then I put on the beard and tried to secure it to my face as best I could. We reached the kindergarten just as I finished getting dressed. I grabbed the sack and we all climbed out and rushed towards the school entrance. It was then that I spotted my reflection in a window.
To be fair, I am sure I wasn’t the least convincing-looking Santa there has ever been, but I must have been pretty close. The three of us stopped in our tracks. The mom and dad turned to look at the monstrosity they were planning to pass off to their daughter and her class mates as the actual, genuine, Santa Claus. And burst out laughing.
I was wearing white training shoes and socks. The red trousers were more like long shorts, revealing a gap of hairy calf. A black leather belt was struggling to hold my misshapen belly in place behind a faded red vest. The coat with its narrow strip of white trim could not close and neither it nor the scraggly fake beard could cover the dark patch of chest hair peeking out over the top of the vest. The beard itself was too small and I could only get the one hook to stay behind my ear, which made the whole thing sit crooked on my face. On top of my head, crowning the whole ensemble, was a floppy red hat with off-white trim. Add to that the fact that I had a dark tan courtesy of the formidable African sun, and I looked the way the actual Santa might look after spending five years as a castaway on a tropical island.
The kids were great but I doubt they were convinced. I did my best, asking them what they wanted for Christmas and punctuating my words with plenty of hearty “ho-ho-ho”s, but they had that look that suggests a desire to believe, tempered by serious doubts. One kid looked me square in the eye and said: “you’re not the real Santa are you?”
What could I say? All the kids were staring at me with wide eyes. I looked to my colleague and she nodded emphatically, so I lied. I did not want to be the one to destroy their belief in Santa Claus. I suspect, however, that by then it was too late. I think that if the real Santa had turned up at that point, they would have been pulling on his beard to check if it was real, and they would probably have asked him the same question they asked me.